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Your Project Team Sucks: Part 5 | The Perfect Hire: Listen All Y’all It’s Self-Sabotage

Updated: May 25

An alternative title might be “HR: Hiring the Right People for the Wrong Reasons.

There is a problem that is becoming more and more common, the insistence that a company's hires have 5+ years of experience, a plethora of certifications, and a signed reference from an old-world deity… and that’s for a junior-level position.

In my lifetime I’ve been in many, many¸ interviews. If the manager liked me and thought I was a good fit, I’d get the job, if not, they went with someone else. This past year, however, I’ve been told that I was perfect for a position and a great fit for the team, however {insert reason here}. One of the frequently reoccurring reasons is lacking specific certifications. Currently, I’ve been asked to get 12 different certifications from different organizations. Some only required one, others required two or three.

Before the three people who love to throw hate my way jump down my throat about maligning certifications, let me explain clearly.

Hiring the candidate that would be best in the role, who happens to have a PMP (as an example) is a good thing

Hiring a lesser candidate only because they have a PMP (again, as an example) is a very bad thing

You Say You Do, But Don’t Actually Want Experience

I get it, experience is important for a lot of roles. Very few things can make up for a lack of experience in many positions. The problem is, you don’t actually want experience, or more specifically, you don’t want someone that has different experiences than the ones already on the team.

Teams run on norms, rules, methods, detailed memorandum of understanding, etc. It can be very complex. A web of relationships that can be upended, should someone have different ideas of how things should be organized.

Experience is the underlying feeling that people get when they say they have a gut instinct. They are pulling from experiences they’ve had in the past and judging current states based on that. It is invaluable, especially in project management. That’s not, however, the experience they are talking about. The experience that hiring managers and HR want is the type of experience where they don’t have to train you. Experience where they can show you your cubical, and leave you to dive in on day one.

They don’t actually care about your experience, they just use it as shorthand for “doesn’t need instruction.”

The Phoebe Problem

The problem with viewing experience this way is that you invite people who channel Phoebe, from the Magic School Bus.

That is, in my last job, we never had the developers test their code… at my old job, we never used story points to estimate the amount of work needed… at my old job, the boss was fucking the head of marketing, so he was never involved in priority meetings…

Phoebe, a character from the Magic School Bus saying "at my old school, shit like this never happened"
Phoebe throwing shade at the process manager

Teams are a delicate balance between individuals. Having someone come in that is constantly pointing out that other teams do things differently, is a bad thing, it upsets this balance among the team and sows discord.

The type of experience that HR and hiring managers are searching for, is the exact type of experience that drives this discord. The “hit the ground running”/“self-starter” experience that HR is searching for lands good people in bad situations. They have no structure, no concept of how the team works in its current form, and can’t be utilized to their fullest because of it.

So, if the experience is wanted so that they won’t need to be trained, and by doing so, you won’t be able to get the full benefits of that experience… what’s the point?

You Are Focusing Too Much on the Short-Term

Projects are a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service… right? That’s the very definition of a project according to the Project Management Institute. So why are we concerned about the long-term effects of hiring someone?

The problem relates to organizational culture and the rippling, long-lasting, negative effects that a toxic employee can have on a team. Now, just because someone has experience, doesn’t mean they are going to be negative… true, but the issue isn’t their experience. The issue is why you are prizing experience at all, which comes with it a lack of clarity of the role, and how their experiences play into potential frustration.

They are comparing your organization with another one, with the idea that they are similar enough to rely on that comparison when that probably isn’t the case.

Training someone in the ways that your organization works is invaluable. It prevents the frustration that leads to being a Phoebe. It prevents them from filling in the gaps perceived in your company with their experiences from previous organizations. Diminishing this comparative view between your company and another will stem the tide of negativity, an emotion that is believed to be extremely contagious.

Ok then, you say, having someone who is a Phoebe is beneficial. They might sow discord now, but long term, they can improve my company’s processes… right? RIGHT?! That’s thinking long-term, right? RIGHT?!

A woman with a someone shocked and condescending look saying No

You are still hiring someone based on a short-term vision. We don’t need to train this person, they’ll just work right out of the box. It never addresses how you get them to stay long-term. Yes, you might see the benefits of their long-term involvement, but you don’t stop and wonder how you ensure that they stay for the long term.

You’re Hiring the Right People, For the Wrong Reasons

A few years ago, the company I worked for hired a new developer. He was, beyond any doubt in my mind, one of the best developers to ever Irish their coffee in the middle of a standup. I am convinced that you could give him the source code for Windows, and in an afternoon he’d return the holy grail of operating systems.

A screenshot of the Windows 3.1 hotdog stand scheme, which is all bright reds and yellows
Bring back the Hotdog Stand scheme you fucking cowards!

This guy was so mind-blowingly good, that he was the source of legends after he left: He once started a fire using only dental floss and water, his business card simply says I’ll call you, he once built a tree house with a fully finished basement, etc.

He lasted only a couple of months before finally quitting. You see, he was hired because he had a lot of experience. However, his role was poorly defined, he didn’t know who he was supposed to report to, and his PM was inept so he just had to stew in his frustration. He’d bring up better ways of doing things (in which he had experience on other teams) only to be shut down, and on and on.

This is a guy that I would hire without an interview, he’s that good. Legend says that his signature won a Pulitzer prize. His experience is incredibly valuable, yes, but what’s more valuable is what that experience can mean to the team. To tap into that, you need to integrate him with the team. He needs to understand where he fits, what his responsibilities are, who he reports to, what the hierarchy looks like, what software is employed, important people to know, and so on. This initial training would have allowed him to understand how his experience can be leveraged to make our organization better. Instead of saying "at my old job..., he could have said "we're doing this bad thing, this is a better way, here is where we can implement that. It provides context. His experience is now being leveraged in context to your processes.

But that wasn’t the reason he was hired. He was hired so that they didn’t have to take him through all of this organizational training.

Going back to hiring someone solely because they have a certification. When I asked a former co-worker who spent years working as an HR associate why there was such an intense focus on the certification and nothing else, her response was “because they are consistent.”

Not that they are good, or better than anyone else, just that they were “consistent.”

It disregards whether they are a good fit for the company, or whether they are of any quality whatsoever. The only concern is that they are consistent, and therefore replaceable.

I’ve worked and gone to school with many people who have certifications, and they were (for the most part) phenomenal at what they do; it’s not because they have a certification, it’s because they are just that fucking badass. By reducing their badassery down to a dumb piece of paper, you are seriously undervaluing them.

This leads me to…

You Require a Stupid Amount of Experience for Entry-Level Positions

I saw this post yesterday on LinkedIn:

  • Junior node.js developer

  • Pay 45-55k/yr

  • Required:

    • 5 years of experience with JavaScript

    • 3 years designing relational databases

    • 3 years of experience with event-driven APIs

    • 3 years of experience with REST APIs

    • CJSD Certification

Cartman saying "Goodluck with your piece of crap clubhouse asshole"
Every time I get an email turning me down for a job, I reply with this gif

For those who would argue that this is an extreme example, let me assure you that it is not.

This is becoming such a problem, that recruiters and other HR professionals are posting daily to social media sites that companies need to be more receptive to hiring people without experience, especially when hiring for a junior or entry-level position.

Frustratingly, the insane requirements posted above are defended with a terrifying frequency.

What’s more, many times the insane levels of experience are hidden behind the required certificate. For example, if you are hiring a PM and you require them to have a PMP, but no relevant PM experience, you are actually saying that you require them to have a minimum of three years of experience because that is what the PMP requires.

(I swear to god I’m not shitting on the PMP it’s just fresh on my mind as I write this)

In reality, you should be looking to hire someone who is still willing to learn, that can be molded, that is knowledgeable without thinking they know everything; you should hire someone because they will benefit from the organization as much as you benefit from them. While this is especially true with a junior-level position, it still applies to higher positions. A senior-level PM should be just as willing to be molded and grow within the company, and the company should be encouraging that exact growth and shaping them so that the benefits are mutual.

Ultimately, What You Are Doing is Sabotaging the Team

For too long, I’ve seen company hiring practices that burn through employees due to the above-mentioned reasons. Hiring someone with 10 years of experience to be a junior-level employee, just to see them immediately leave for something better. Team members who are in roles that are poorly defined, because you hope that their experience will help them figure it out. The reliance on certifications as a measurement of hireability, with a complete disregard for what their knowledge and experience can bring to your company.

I’ve watched companies hemorrhage money blowing through employees. Companies that have a 50-80% turnover rate, fail to realize that they are hiring people for the wrong reasons, underutilizing them, and undervaluing their work and experience, all while insisting that they are hiring them for that experience.

The heads of these same companies then take to social media and news outlets to say that “no one wants to work anymore,” or (more egregiously) “the quality of the labor force has fallen dramatically in recent years.” What they fail to see is that it's not only their fault, but these shitty policies that save them a little money now, are costing them a fortune in the future, and greatly reducing the amount of work that can be accomplished, since their employees are constantly somewhere in the learning curve, before becoming fed up and leaving… they never reach the point that they can fully contribute all that experience you claim to love so much.

It's sabotage. It is self-fucking-sabotage.

Tell an organization that you can increase productivity and profits by 10-15%, and all that is required is a proper onboarding process and a more nuanced hiring practice, and most of the time, they’ll respond with “but, muh-earnings call!”

That’s not fair. Small businesses and start-ups are just as guilty, so, they’d respond with “but, muh-profits!”

What they are creating is a self-fulfilling prophecy, an endless loop of self-sabotage, and a cycle of money lost. As turnover rises, and they start to see two-year retention rates drop to near zero, they argue that the upfront investment will be wasted since they’ll leave in a couple of years anyway. Which causes people to be frustrated and leave. Which reinforces that early investments are a waste. The cycle then begins to demand things like experience. You need that experience because you are refusing to invest in the ones you are hiring. You are using their experience as an investment in your company, knowing that you won’t pay back that investment. And it's super fucking shitty.

It can be fixed, you just have to want to fix it.


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3 Kommentare

01. März 2023

I'm sure you can find someone who built a Hot Dog stand theme on Reddit 🤣

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23. Feb. 2023

give me a 20 year experienced pm or dev over any of these liberal woke college snowflakes certifications are NOT just about being consistent its about proving your self you sound like a child crying that they dont want to clean there room so go cry baby i'll be sitting in my 250k job with my pmp

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Astutely Obtuse Staff Writer
Astutely Obtuse Staff Writer
24. Feb. 2023
Antwort an

Hi random anonymous commenter,

If you are making 250k a year, I would think you could afford punctuation.

We appreciate you taking eight minutes to read this post, get angry, and then respond like a typical "old man yells at cloud" commenter. We are in agreement that pissing off anyone who would use "woke," "snowflake," and "go cry, baby" in an unironic manner is probably someone that is worth pissing off. Thanks to your pissy response, we are now thinking of submitting this article for a Pulitzer. When we win, we'll make sure to thank "Guest" for the encouragement.

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